The tragic slaying of three Muslim college students in North Carolina is dominating the headlines today. According to his Facebook page, the killer was a committed atheist and a political liberal. I think it's very rarely helpful or fair to connect political beliefs to the acts of possibly deranged or mentally ill individuals, and thankfully some of the smarter liberal commentators such as Steve Benen agree with me on this point. And Benen was also correct to point out that some on the right have been too quick to point to politics as a motive for individual killings, such as when some conservatives engaged in overheated finger-pointing at New York's liberal mayor Bill de Blasio after two NYPD officers were killed in December.
However, I do think it's fair to say that attributing political motives to individual killings is much more of a phenomenon on the left than on the right. In recent years, liberal organizations and commentators have gone out of their way to connect mainstream conservative political beliefs to violence, and more often than not, such connections are dubious or nonexistent. Back in 2011, I addressed this unseemly tendency in the wake of the Anders Brevik killings with "Debunking the Left-Wing Myths About 'Right-Wing, Extremist Christians.”
One of the prime perpetrators of these political smears is the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has devolved from an organization that once combatted real hate groups such as the KKK to a racket that trades on its former reputation to smear people such as Ben Carson as "extremists." The SPLC has, among other things, blamed Sarah Palin's political rhetoric for providing a "a facilitating context” for the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords by a man who is quite clearly mentally ill and barely registers discernible political opinions. Of course, when another man shot a security guard and was intent of starting a killing spree at the mainstream Christian organization the Family Research Council, he told the FBI that he found the organization listed on a "hate map" on the SPLC's website. What was SPLC's response to the awkward revelation that they were associated with this terrible crime?
“Well, first of all, having a group on our hate map doesn’t cause anybody to attack them any more than they attacked us for one thing or another,” Dees told CNSNews.com on August 6. It takes quite a bit of hubris for Dees to defensively equate rhetorical attacks on his own organization with actual gun violence against an organization whose politics he dislikes. It also seems more than a little convenient that Dees now denies a connection between rhetoric and violence. In 2011, an SPLC blog post, “Expert: Political Rhetoric Likely a Factor in Arizona Shooting,” concluded that Sarah Palin’s rhetoric “could have provided a facilitating context” for the Giffords shooting, though, again, there is no evidence Loughner was exposed to it.
By the loose standard of “facilitating context,” the unjust inclusion of the Family Research Council headquarters on a “hate map” otherwise filled with violent white nationalist organizations is a much more serious transgression—particularly when Corkins admits he used the map to learn about his target. And while Leo Johnson’s defining characteristics are his courage and character, as long as we’re talking about context, it’s worth pondering why the founder of a celebrated civil rights organization is obdurately unreflective about the role his SPLC played in the shooting of a black man.
Which brings us to the Facebook page of the North Carolina killer, which suggests he wasn't remotely neutral when it comes to his atheist and liberal political opinions:
His Facebook Likes included the Huffington Post, Rachel Maddow, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Freedom from Religion Foundation, Bill Nye "The Science Guy," Neil deGrasse Tyson, Gay Marriage groups and similar progressive pages.